Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground near Olds, Alta., Thursday, July 16, 2020. A new report suggests the economic impact of the pandemic led to a massive increase in federal aid to Canada’s oil patch. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground near Olds, Alta., Thursday, July 16, 2020. A new report suggests the economic impact of the pandemic led to a massive increase in federal aid to Canada’s oil patch. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Pandemic increased direct aid to fossil fuel producers, new study shows

The report raises further questions about how to define fossil fuel subsidies

A new report suggests the economic impact of the pandemic led to a massive increase in federal aid to Canada’s oil patch.

But the annual inventory of fossil fuel subsidies published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development also highlights that almost all of the direct aid was paid out in two programs to protect jobs and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

It raises further questions about how to define fossil fuel subsidies, an issue Canada has not solved despite promising to eliminate “inefficient” ones for more than a decade now.

“The problematic aspect is how do we make sure they’re not supporting for future fossil fuel production,” said Vanessa Corkal, a policy analyst at the IISD and author of the report.

Her report notes that it makes no sense for Canada to both provide direct funding to help fossil fuel producers and charge a price on the pollution fossil fuels create, likening it to “trying to bail water out of a leaky boat.”

Canada first promised to eliminate the subsidies as part of a G20 commitment in 2009, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau more recently set a target date of 2025 to do it.

But a peer-review of fossil fuel subsidies being done with Argentina is still not done, and a full list of what subsidies even exist has yet to materialize. That peer review began in June 2018 and was expected to be done by June 2020 at the latest.

Corkal said it’s impossible to phase out anything until there’s a full picture of what exists.

Finance Canada has not yet provided an update on the status of that review.

The IISD report shows Canada spent at least $1.9 billion in direct aid to the traditional energy sector last year, up from $600 million in 2019.

More than three-quarters of that — $1.5 billion — was to help companies restore abandoned oil wells in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Abandoned wells are a significant source of methane emissions. Canada’s most recent emissions inventory suggests in 2018 270,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions came from them. However several studies suggest there are more abandoned wells than we think, and they emit more methane than we count.

Another $320 million was aid to Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil industry, which was hit hard last year by the pandemic and the oil price collapse in the spring.

Corkal said initially the oil recovery fund for the province was pitched in a way that would require it to show an environmental impact, but it’s not clear that’s happening. Most of that funding has yet to be committed.

Corkal said loans aren’t included in the subsidies total because it’s not clear how much they will ultimately cost taxpayers, so federal loan programs offered to oil companies last spring to help them weather the pandemic downturn aren’t included in the totals. Nor is a $750-million package to help companies cut their methane emissions to meet new federal standards, because a lot of that funding is supposed to repayable.

Environment groups welcomed the orphaned oil well program last spring, believing it to be a better way to help the sector than subsidizing oil production. But Corkal said taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for cleaning up orphaned wells permanently.

“Even if a subsidy has clear emissions reductions benefits, it’s ultimately still reducing the cost of business for fossil fuel producers,” she said.

Defining how a subsidy is “inefficient” lies at the heart of the promise to eliminate them in Canada. Environment Canada once listed four subsidies from its department and yet determined all were efficient, either by aiding small remote communities with the cost of fuel, or having a positive environmental impact.

President Joe Biden made eliminating fossil fuel subsidies in the United States an immediate priority. On his first full day in office he directed all federal agencies to identify any direct federal spending on fossil fuels, and to eliminate any such spending from the budget next year.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police responded to a report of a shooting in the 1300-block of 176 Street at around 7:15 p.m. on June 3, 2017. (File photo)
Trial dates set for senior charged in 2017 ‘targeted’ South Surrey shooting

Jury trial for Kenneth Turpin scheduled to begin Oct. 25

Earl Marriott Secondary alumna Tanis Orsetti has received a $15,000 Cmolik Graduate Studies Scholarship to further her studies in the field of medicine. (File/Contributed photo)
Earl Marriott alumna selected for new $15K scholarship

Tanis Orsetti is studying the use immunotherapy in cancer treatment

Eternity Medical Equipment’s ECAN95 masks have received Health Canada approval and CSA certification. (Eternity Medical Equipment photo)
South Surrey N-95 equivalent manufacturer launches mask recycling program

Eternity Medical Equipment partners with Ontario-based LifeCycle Revive

Surrey Fire Service at a garage fire in the 14400-block of 82A Ave on March 22, 2021. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
‘Perfect storm’ of variants, increasing COVID cases are concerning for Surrey fire chief

Between police and fire, Larry Thomas said there are 8 confirmed cases, 18 others isolating

People take part in an anti-curfew protest in Montreal on Sunday April 11, 2021. Hundreds of people gathered in Old Montreal tonight in defiance of a new 8 p.m. curfew. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giuseppe Valiante
VIDEO: Hundreds defy Montreal’s 8 p.m. curfew in violent, destructive protest

Quebec reported 1,535 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, as well as five additional deaths linked to the virus

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Most Read